News / Asia

Rare Earths Sources Court Japan

As Japanese industries reel from Chinese export restrictions on rare earth metals, alternative sources are moving in to fill the gap.

In 2005, Japanese industries asked Yasushi Watanabe, a geologist at the Geological Survey of Japan, to find new sources of rare earths - metals that are used in products from computer hard disk drives to hybrid car batteries.

China for years has supplied most of Japan's rare earths. Watanabe's job has been to help assess the quality of deposits and the viability of mining them in countries outside China. In recent years, the Japanese government and large Japanese companies have entered joint ventures to explore for and mine these metals all over the world - in Vietnam, India, Kazakhstan, Mongolia, Australia and the United States.

Still, when China curbed rare earths exports to Japan in September following a territorial dispute, Japanese industries had to scramble.

"It was a big mistake. Last year, due to the economic depression Japanese companies didn't buy enough amounts of rare earths from China. In future, we will not repeat such failure again," Watanabe said.

At a rare earth conference this week in Hong Kong, organized by Metal Events and Roskill Information Services, miners from Greenland, Australia, the U.S., South Africa, Turkey and other nations reached out to the Japanese.

Japan's high-tech industries need about 30,000 tons of the metals this year, and the need is expected to grow in the next two years, partly because of the demand for hybrid cars.

Ahmet Arda, managing director of AMR Resources, says his company has accelerated the production of rare earths in southern Turkey to take advantage of the shortage.

"It's a reality everybody wakes up to. We wanted to bring that production forward and we are looking for strategic partners, somebody who is interested in rare earths," Arda states, "This can be Honda, Mitsubishi, Siemens, Bosch."

Watanabe, who is also a group leader at Japan's National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology, says Japan is developing technology to improve recycling of some rare earths from discarded electronic products. And it is seeking substitutes for rare earth components.

He says in two years Japan will find its own steady supply of rare earths.

"I think this year and next year would be very hard for Japan, but from 2012, this will change because we have our own supply sources and two major deposits Mountain Pass and Mount Weld in the U.S. and Australia will start producing rare earths. Now stable supply is more important than the price. Even if the price is somewhat higher than Chinese products, probably Japanese companies would buy from those mines outside China," Watanabe said.

Rare earth minerals are difficult and expensive to mine. And like most mining activities, doing so results in environmental damage, particularly because the ores from which these metals are extracted can be radioactive. Chinese mines have produced rare earths at a much lower cost, forcing competitors to shut down in recent years and creating a near monopoly.

Germany and the United States are among the countries that have expressed concern about China's decision to cut rare earth exports. Both countries have industries that need the minerals.

The rare earths issue may figure in the strategic agenda for the leaders of Japan and the United States in their summit later this week on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Yokohama, Japan.

China denies it is using rare earths as a diplomatic leverage against Japan and defended its export controls as a step toward more sustainable mining and protecting its environment.

You May Like

Brutality Eroding IS Financial Support

Director of National Intelligence James Clapper says IS's penchant for publicizing beheadings, other brutal forms of punishment hurts group’s bottom line More

Studies: Climate Change a Factor in Disasters in Syria, California

The studies point to the possibility of clear and present dangers from a threat often considered to be far in the future More

Video Afghan Refugees Complain of Harassment in Pakistan

Afghan officials and human rights organizations assert that Pakistani authorities are using deadly attack at school in Peshawar as pretext to push out Afghan refugees More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Kerry Seeks Assurances of Russian Non-Interference in Ukrainei
X
March 03, 2015 3:11 AM
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has told his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, that his country could face further consequences to what he called its “already strained economy” if Moscow does not fully comply with a cease-fire in Ukraine. The two met, on Monday, on the sidelines of a U.N. Human Rights Council meeting in Geneva, where Kerry outlined human rights violations in Russian-annexed Crimea and eastern Ukraine. VOA State Department correspondent Pam Dockins reports from Geneva.
Video

Video Kerry Seeks Assurances of Russian Non-Interference in Ukraine

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has told his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, that his country could face further consequences to what he called its “already strained economy” if Moscow does not fully comply with a cease-fire in Ukraine. The two met, on Monday, on the sidelines of a U.N. Human Rights Council meeting in Geneva, where Kerry outlined human rights violations in Russian-annexed Crimea and eastern Ukraine. VOA State Department correspondent Pam Dockins reports from Geneva.
Video

Video Smartphones May Help in Diagnosing HIV

Diagnosing infections such as HIV requires expensive clinical tests, making the procedure too costly for many poor patients or those living in remote areas. But a new technology called lab-on-a-chip may make the tests more accessible to many. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Afghan Refugees Complain of Harassment in Pakistan

Afghan officials have expressed concern over reports of a crackdown on Afghan refugees in Pakistan following the Peshawar school attack in December. Reports of mass arrests and police harassment coupled with fear of an uncertain future are making life difficult for a population that fled its homeland to escape war. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports from Islamabad.
Video

Video Ukrainian Volunteers Prepare to Defend Mariupol

Despite the ongoing ceasefire in Ukraine, soldiers in the city of Mariupol fear that pro-Russian separatists may be getting ready to attack. The separatists must take or encircle the city if they wish to gain land access to Crimea, which was annexed by Russia early last year. But Ukrainian forces, many of them volunteers, say they are determined to defend it. Patrick Wells reports from Mariupol.
Video

Video Moscow Restaurants Suffer in Bad Economy, Look for Opportunity

As low oil prices and Western sanctions force Russia's economy into recession, thousands of Moscow restaurants are expected to close their doors. Restaurant owners face rents tied to foreign currency, while rising food prices mean Russians are spending less when they dine out. One entrepreneur in Moscow has started a dinner kit delivery service for those who want to cook at home to save money but not skimp on quality. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports.
Video

Video US, Cuba Report Progress in Latest Talks to Restore Ties

The United States and Cuba say they have made progress in the second round of talks on restoring diplomatic relations more than 50 years after breaking off ties. Delegations from both sides met in Washington on Friday to work on opening embassies in Havana and Washington and iron out key obstacles to historic change. VOA’s Mary Alice Salinas reports from the State Department.
Video

Video Presidential Hopefuls Battle for Conservative Hearts and Minds

One after another, presumptive Republican presidential contenders auditioned for conservative support this week at the Conservative Political Action Conference held outside Washington. The rhetoric was tough as a large field of potential candidates tried to woo conservative support with red-meat attacks on President Barack Obama and Democrats in Congress. VOA Political Columnist Jim Malone takes a look.
Video

Video NYC's Restaurant Week: An Economic Boom in Fine Dining

New Yorkers take pride in setting world trends — in fashion, the arts and fine dining. The city’s famous biannual Restaurant Week plays a significant role in a booming tourism industry that sustains 359,000 jobs and generates $61 billion in yearly revenue. VOA's Ramon Taylor reports.
Video

Video Brookhaven at Cutting Edge of US Energy Research

Issues like the Keystone XL pipeline, fracking and instability in the Middle East are driving debate in the U.S. about making America energy independent. Recently, the American Energy Innovation Council urged Congress and the White House to make expanded energy research a priority. One beneficiary of increased energy spending would be the Brookhaven National Lab, where clean, renewable, efficient energy is the goal. VOA's Bernard Shusman reports.
Video

Video Southern US Cities Preserve Civil Rights Heritage to Boost Tourism

There has been a surge of interest in the American civil rights movement of the 1950s and '60s, thanks in part to the Hollywood motion picture "Selma." Five decades later, communities in the South are embracing the dark chapters of their past with hopes of luring tourism dollars. VOA's Chris Simkins reports.
Video

Video Deep Under Antarctic Ice Sheet, Life!

With the end of summer in the Southern hemisphere, the Antarctic research season is over. Scientists from Northern Illinois University are back in their laboratory after a 3-month expedition on the Ross Ice Shelf, the world’s largest floating ice sheet. As VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports, they hope to find clues to explain the dynamics of the rapidly melting ice and its impact on sea level rise.
Video

Video Lao Dam Project Runs Into Opposition

A Lao dam project on a section of the Mekong River is drawing opposition from local fishermen, international environmental groups and neighboring countries. VOA's Say Mony visited the region to investigate the concerns. Colin Lovett narrates.

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More